INDEPENDENCE — Two months into the new school year, the Central School District continues to shore up the gaps in its COVID mitigation measures amidst ever changing state mandates.

On Aug. 19, Gov. Kate Brown required all teachers, educators and support staff and volunteers in K-12 schools to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18.

As of Monday morning of the deadline, just 1.4 % of the CSD staff remain who still need to provide paperwork to prove their vaccination status or have an approved medical or religious exception, according to Central Communications Director Emily Mentzer. She added anyone who has not complied would be placed on unpaid leave starting on Tuesday, Oct. 19.

“With more than 400 employees, Central School District is one of the largest employers in the Monmouth-Independence area. We are committed to the highest quality in-person instruction throughout this challenging school year,” Mentzer said in a statement. “We know that vaccines are one tool in our toolbox in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in our community. We continue to practice other safety protocols, including wearing masks indoors, cohorting, and maintaining physical space to the extent possible.”

Even with those safety protocols in place, the district continues to have staff and students contract confirmed cases of coronavirus.

Director of Safety and Security Jason Clark told the school board last week that the administration keeps daily track of COVID numbers. The data he provided showed total cases for staff from the first week of August and the last week of August for students through Oct. 8.

There were 40 total students with confirmed cases, another 236 students who had close contact with confirmed cases, who thus must also go into quarantine, and another 20 students who are considered “vaccinated saves.”

“Vaccine saves are students who would have been put in close-contact quarantine if they hadn’t been vaccinated,” Clark explained.

Among staff, there were 19 positive cases, five close contacts and 16 vaccinated saves.

Clark attributes the program’s early success to daily collaboration with Polk County Public Health, sharing information and getting advice.

“The process involves building COVID teams at each building, collecting information that comes most often from a parent or guardian, that shares they have positive or a close contact situation,” Clark explained.

They then fill out a Google form that asks key questions which is then forwarded to the district team, headed by Menzter. She, in turn, reaches out to parents, communicating when an exposure date was set and give their child a pathway back to school.

“It’s efficient, kids coming all the time. Our job is to get kids back in. We want it to be safe, staff safe. It’s pretty black and white as far as the guidance on that. It’s working well,” Clark said.

However, some students may be slipping through cracks in their planning. Parent Barbara Baker said during public comment at the Central School Board meeting that her daughter, a junior at Central High School, was just one such student.

Baker said her daughter was recently exposed to COVID through a teammate and had to be quarantined, but never got ill herself. While she awaited approval to return to school, her absences were being marked as her being ill, Baker said.

“I sent an email to Principal (Donna Servignat) on Sept. 26, a Sunday, asking about the absence code, as well as why students would be marked absent at all as they should be able to attend classes online during the situation,” Baker said. “I received an email back from her stating she had asked the district office to assign a specific code for these types of absences, but did not respond to my other inquiries.”

While Baker was able to keep her daughter’s absences to a minimum of four sick days, she still wanted to know why the administration wasn’t prepared to provide online classes to students to attend while they were in quarantine.

“We have the technology, why can’t kids who are required to quarantine still receive an education? With children being in multiple classrooms and sports, they are likely to be exposed more than once. So, I am sure they won’t be missing school because of quarantine more than once,” Baker said.

“Not all students are able to get the vaccine for various reasons: age, religion, medical, whatever, they still deserve the opportunity to get the same education as the vaccinated. The CSD has really dropped the ball on not allowing students to receive an education while waiting the allotted number of days because they were potentially exposed. Students deserve better. All students deserve better,” she added.

Clark said he wasn’t sure of Baker’s specific case, but assured the board members one of the boxes they checked for quarantines was making sure “the kiddo had a Chrome book and Google Classroom to make sure student communication with teacher” continued.

Superintendent Jennifer Kubista jumped in, saying the administration will have to “do some follow up” on Baker’s situation. She, too, assured the board that after conversations with principals, they are sending homework home at the elementary level and a lot of middle school and high school staff have moved to Google Classrooms.

“I want to be clear. We made this change, probably a week into school. As we started to see cases increase, it was too much at the building level. They needed to focus on instruction. So, we made a big shift and took some steps and had it come down to the district office for more consistent communication,” Kubista explained.

“It is quite complex, the options you have for close contact. It’s not a clean black and white. And that’s some pieces we’re trying to clear up and support our families of all three of those options. Close contact, test on fifth day and if negative test can return on eighth day. If positive case, there’s only one pathway. It’s the close contacts we’re having to do a little education.”

Later in the administration’s presentation, Cec Koontz, director of finance and operations said they are still working out issues transporting students to activities and sporting events due to COVID restrictions.

With a shortage in buses and drivers, the administration has been exploring options. One was hiring out third-party transportation, but, they too, have a driver shortage and have ironically been calling the school district to check on extra driver availability, Koonz said.

Other options they’re exploring are opening a corporate account with Enterprise Rent-a-Car to be paid for through the general fund and fundraising, and volunteers. However, the regular volunteer sign up now features a COVID vaccination status question, Koontz said.

“We have determined in our smaller vehicles, we are not going to be able to accommodate medical exceptions. In buildings we allow folks with medical exceptions and religious exceptions to work. But in these smaller cars or vans, we are going to require people be vaccinated to transport students,” Koontz explained.

She added students are still unable to drive other students, only themselves and siblings, regardless of vaccination status. Kubista said transportation has been a large topic with the Oregon School Activities Association Reclassification Committee where she sits as a member,

“The difficulty of transportation ... we’ll continue to hear, not only here but across state. “How are we going to keep activities and athletics going while we’re working through these unique situations? It’s important to share that because we’re not alone trying to figure these pieces out,” Kubista said.

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